City of Valine
The heat of the Forges fill the cavern and is the first thing most visitors notice. The Forges also cast a red glow in the center of the metropolis, which, to the surface eye, provides a sinister cast to all dealings with the dark elves.
The heart of the Empire is the seat of dark elf political and military power. All decisions of import to the Empire are made by the Orbis of the Arcanium.
Dark elves of Valine consider themselves to be the best their kinds, and Vernlarum, has to offer. The further away from the center of the Empire one lives, the further removed from power, influence, knowledge, wealth, and society one becomes. Those in Valine would mock the desperate few who run small Prefectures at the edge of the Empire, if Valinians ever thought of them at all.
There is, in name at least, a Prefect for Valine. Aloten is a female dark elf in her middle years. She studied at the Arcanium for decades before reaching this position. She has hopes of attaining the Orbis, though those above her don't believe she'll ever reach the status of Magister. They appreciate her inability to make an important decision without consulting them—it gives them direct say in the running of the Prefecture of Valine without the necessity of managing every detail. It also provides them a scapegoat for their less popular decisions. The things that make Aloten good for her current role make her a poor Magister, and the other Magisters know this.
The capital city of the dark elf Empire is also its largest. The city is a sprawling mass centered around its two most important areas—the Arcanium and the Forges. Leading away from these are a number of broad thoroughfares. The other streets of Valine are narrow and winding, which often cause visitors to get lost. Adding to a visitor's sense of confusion is the ancient dwarves' use of elevation for their buildings. A building that looks short and squat might, in fact, be 10 stories tall, with most of those stories built downward into the cliff behind it.
This layout made the dwarven city difficult to assault, but it has also made the dark elves difficult to dig out now that they are entrenched. Not that anyone has tried. The former kingdoms that allied with the dwarves have all been lost to time and the stride of the Shambles.
Ancient dwarves picked the site of Valine, Barazir at the time, because of its proximity to a series of lava pools. The first dwarves, and later the Arcanium, stabilized the pools by laying various Aegises upon it. The lava provides a more constant forge than the dwarves could otherwise maintain.
Anvils of all sizes ring the pools, and some smaller forges do as well for when the smiths need a cooler temperature than the lava pools provide. The sound of smithing at the Forges is constant, and those who spend any time in Valine learn to ignore the ringing. The dwarves who smith at the Forges are all bearded to some degree or another, for no dwarf would be trusted with the responsibility without earning some trust of the dark elves. Female dwarves who are trusted are allowed to grow their hair long and braid it.
The best metalwork in Vernlarum, with the possible exception of Thonk, comes from the Forges. The history of smithing for the dwarves is unsurpassed, and those who work the Forges know they are slaves but are honored to carry on their race's tradition anyway.
Narvi is the Captain of the Forges. The dwarven female is honored to have the position, and she takes her duties very seriously. She knows the names the other dwarves call her, and she doesn't care. The work of the Forges is something dwarves devoted them to since the beginning of time, and she sees it as her responsibility to continue in that lineage. When she sees other dwarves acting rebellious, she is quick to bring them to the attention of the dark elves who monitor the Forges. She doesn't want any disruption of her work or the work of the other dwarves, and she sees no benefit from clear rebellion.
Narvi is not totally without sympathy for those dwarves who have a worse lot in life than she does, and she goes to the slave pens regularly to find dwarves she can task with small jobs to see how honorable and trustworthy they can be. One of her charges recently used her task as a means of escape. Narvi has no interest in calling the Reclaimers to recapture the dwarf—it would mean harsh punishment for him and a possible demotion for her. However, she wants the dwarf returned—a dwarf loose in the world who could claim she had helped him is a problem in and of itself. Narvi is nervously seeking someone to find the escaped dwarf Mahar and return him without ever alerting the Reclaimers or the Arcanium.
Ways to the Deep Below
At the far edge of the Empire are a series of collapsed caves and caverns. These all lead to the place known, collectively, as the Deep Below. No one guards these tunnels—anyone brave or foolhardy enough to explore the Deep Below gets what he deserves. The Orbis has declared anything of value brought up from the Deep Below belongs to the Empire. So if someone were to return from the Deep Below, he would be required to give it to the proper authorities and would be given "appropriate compensation".
The Ways are blocked, hidden, or trapped heavily. Even finding a possible Way is difficult, and clearing it to traverse it is generally considered impossible. The Empire has a small group of Reclaimers, the Historians, who seek pathways to the Deep Below. Any time they find one, they explore and see what ancient lore they can recover. Because of their duties, the Historians are some of the most powerful and feared of the Reclaimers. They are also the group with the longest list of killed or missing members.
The Deep Below itself is a series of tunnels and caves that web deep beneath all of the known world. It is possible it does not reach under the oceans. It's also possible it does. No one who has gone that deep has ever returned.
All manner of creatures and monsters inhabit the Deep Below, though most have no names anyone on the surface can recall. Some of these monsters have intellect and histories of their own. They remember things differently. They believe the Ways were collapsed to seal them in the Deep Below forever. And they are constantly seeking a Way to reach the surface and take what they view as rightfully theirs.
For reasons lost to time, though likely to prevent dark elf incursions, the entire Deep Below was covered with a powerful Aegis that prevents any teleportation or divination spells from crossing into, or out of, the Deep Below. The Orbis, just like the dark elf ancestors before, has looked for a way to disrupt this Aegis, but they have found no way past it other than to physically cross the threshold.
The Forlorn are a group of dwarves who escaped from the Empire some years ago. They were a large band of miners in a small Prefecture who overthrew their dark elf masters and fled into a newly discovered part of the Deep Below. Their plan had been to escape and then reach the surface, but they soon got hopelessly lost in the unfamiliar caverns. Now the band has dwindled and changed. The harsh environs have turned the dwarves into cannibals. Whenever they meet a newly escaped dwarf they take the dwarf in, kill him in his sleep, and hold a feast. They don't treat non-dwarves nearly as well. Someone who meets the Forlorn might notice there is something not quite right with the dwarves, as they have all become fairly mad.
There are many storied dark elf cities lost to the Deep Below. None are as storied or as precious to the dark elves as Lorithon. The city was their capital for ages and contains innumerable relics and artifacts of bygone eras. It is a beautiful city of tall spires connected by thin bridges, and it is littered with magic the Orbis would pay dearly for.
Not all of the dark elves in the Empire fled during the Shambling. A small number were left back. These continued their lives, though the intervening time has taken its toll. Whatever turned the original dark elves' skin obsidian has made further alterations, and the elves who live in Lorithon have no pigment in their skin whatsoever. These white elves have also lost much of their knowledge and intellect, and are a mostly feral group. There are some, though that are born with a knowledge of how to use magic, and they seek a way to learn from the tomes of knowledge scattered throughout Lorithon. They also bear a deep hatred for the dark elves who abandoned them at the end of the last age.